The case for painting speed cameras in bright colours

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Of all the causes of road accidents in this country, one of the most avoidable, after drinking, is speeding. And speed cameras, strategically sited, have proved a highly effective deterrent. Which is why MPs want to have the whole country covered by such cameras by 2004, and why few people now question either the need for cameras or the money that is spent on them.

Of all the causes of road accidents in this country, one of the most avoidable, after drinking, is speeding. And speed cameras, strategically sited, have proved a highly effective deterrent. Which is why MPs want to have the whole country covered by such cameras by 2004, and why few people now question either the need for cameras or the money that is spent on them.

Instead, the argument has switched to such practicalities as location and colour. Here, the Commons transport select committee believes that the Government has capitulated to the car lobby by agreeing to site cameras only in certain places and having them all painted bright yellow.

The select committee says that as many as 2,000 – of the 3,400 – road accident deaths each year could be prevented by tougher action against speeding. Its members want the installation of many more concealed cameras in the belief that this would encourage drivers to slow down generally, not just where they spot the cameras in time. They also oppose making the cameras more visible on two grounds: firstly, that drivers who speed deserve to be caught and, secondly, that visible cameras encourage speeding drivers to brake suddenly, making busy roads and accident blackspots even more dangerous than they already are.

The MPs are right to seek an increase in the number and distribution of cameras. They are wrong, however, to argue that making them visible will defeat their purpose. The primary purpose of law enforcement measures should always be to deter crime, rather than to catch criminals after crimes have been committed. Concealed cameras also breed resentment, allowing drivers to believe that they have been copped unfairly and that the main purpose of the cameras is not to improve safety but to raise money for police and local authority coffers.

Clearly visible cameras leave drivers with no excuse for not slowing down, and therefore have the better chance of saving lives. Festooning the country with bright yellow cameras, of course, has aesthetic consequences which may prove as controversial as the cameras once were. But that is another argument.

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